LOOKING BACK AT 2012" Tornado-struck shopping plaza reopens, playgrounds restored

Recovery from deadly 2011 storm continues
Jan. 03, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Editor's note: In the third installment of The Herald's countdown of the top five stories of 2012, recovery continues in the aftermath of the April 2011 tornado.

Businesses were rebuilt and the community has continued to heal in the year and half since a tornado struck Lee County, taking both livelihoods and lives.

After months of uncertainty, several of the businesses within the hard-hit Southeast Shopping Center Plaza reopened in November and December, including Big Lots and Tractor Supply. The dilapidated Umani Asian Bistro building adjacent to the center has been torn down to make way for a new BB&T branch, and big-box sporting goods store Dunham's joined the plaza as its newest tenant.

Lowe's Home Improvement employees volunteered their time and money to repair Buchanan Park, which celebrated its reopening in September. The EF3 tornado flattened the park's playgrounds and baseball lights, while century-old trees were thrown to the wayside. The playground at J. Glenn Edwards Elementary School was also rebuilt, much to the delight of hundreds of children. And nearly all of the residential homes damaged have been repaired.

Community leaders gathered on the tornado's anniversary to remember and reflect on the storm that impacted more than 450 structures and killed two men. Lee County showed resilience and stability after the disaster, said Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive on the anniversary, and will continue to move forward.

And work and recovery continues for some. A few homes are still wait to be repaired or demolished. The county is still seeking a portion of its federal reimbursement. And, for families who lost loved ones, recovery continues to be an uphill battle.